WHEN we mention the word mottoes, we wish it most distinctly to be understood that Heraldic mottoes, though oftentimes quite as silly, have no connection whatever with those poetical effusions in which the crackers and kisses of festive life are so often enfolded
Ay de mi. Our readers must pardon us if we here pause awhile to resuscitate from the dead past our first love, and tell how it was born, lived, throve, and died on--mottoes and the sugarplums they were wrapped in.
We were young--very young: in fact we had, both of us, commenced our existence in that condition, and--we were cousins. Another and a yet stronger tie bound us to each other--and it was that we had each two parents--a male and a female. Need we say that the former were our fathers--the latter our mothers.
The present author started in his troubled course of life just one year and two months in advance of the object of his affection.
How we loved! Well do we remember the day when our mutual passion, which had hitherto been too deep for words, broke through the bonds of silent adoration, and took form and shape in action
The author was five, She was four. A fond relation had the previous day presented Her with a painted wooden doll--and true to the natural instructs of childhood, and her sex, the paint adorning its ligneous head had been promptly and partially sucked off.
The author was sleeping in his cot the mid-day sleep of childhood when She came to share his rest. The author, as he lay wrapped in deep slumber, and doubtless communing with unseen angels, though he is not quite clear upon that point--not being able at this distance of time to speak with absolute certainty--had his mouth wide open, and She had the well-sucked doll in her small but puddy hand.
The truth of the eternal axiom that "Nature abhors a vacuum" must have dawned upon her infant mind, and with that rapid decisiveness of character which marks all great intelligences She at once determined to put it to the test. Where could a fitter subject for experiment be found than her sleeping love.
"Fiat experimentum in corpore amato" was her unspoken motto, and instantly the head of the doll was rammed, with all the force of which that tiny hand was capable, into the open mouth of her unexpecting lover. How, unused to such scientific demonstrations of love, he awoke; how he tried to scream, but could not; how, after severe wrestling with the offending foreign body, premature choking was that time, at any rate, avoided; how, when restored to his normal condition and comparative comfort, the author recognized the depth of affection which had prompted this somewhat unusual action, are matters too sacred to be spoken of even in a deep work of science--such as is the present.
Suffice it "that day they read no more." They had not been reading previously, perhaps for the reason that neither of them knew their letters perfectly. But the love thus auspiciously inaugurated was henceforward nurtured on sugarplums and mottoes.
To enumerate the hundreds of sugarplums we sucked on the joint-stock partnership principle, and the numberless mottoes we spelled out together, would be a task compared to which the labours of Hercules were but a light and facile recreation. Yet truth bids the author state that, as a rule, She sucked more than her share; moreover, She had what now seems to him an unjustifiable trick of biting them in two and retaining the larger half as her own portion, so that, on the whole, he did not altogether get the best of it--but what of that when "Love is lord of all!"
And the mottoes! How well does the author remember them. The simple
"When this you see
or the more ambitious
"To travel with you through this life,
Both hand-in-hand, and free from strife,"
which had the advantage of being adapted to either sex, and was always applicable to loving souls.
But our love! How shall we recount its sad ending? The author has not the heart to do so. He has been young himself, and knows how susceptible are youthful minds; still he feels that he has a duty to perform to his readers which mere personal considerations do not permit him to evade.
She returned to Her parental home, and (the salt tears are trickling adown the authorial nose as he pens these lines) faithless as are Her sex, she fell in love with a boy of ten, with red hair, goggle eyes, and general repulsiveness alone to recommend him. And he who had first taught Her infant lips to lisp love's language found, when next he met Her, that he was forgotten, and that that other and repulsive boy was reaping the ripe crop of affection the author had sown.
It was hard--very hard--so was the other boy's hand when he smacked the Author's head for daring to look at Her he had fondly regarded as his own property. The spell was broken; the Author went to school, and when next they met She had daughters as tall as herself, and the long dead past was relegated to the limbo of oblivion.
To return, however, to our Heraldic mottoes. Their origin is enveloped in mystery. The generally received opinion is, however, that the first idea of the motto was obtained from the war-cries of the different nations. For instance, that of the Irish was "A boo," which, as an old chronicler whose name, however, the pickle jar of history has not preserved to us, says was "a bootiful one to listen to." Like the bagpipes, distance lent enchantment to the sound.
Edward III. was the first person who introduced a motto into his coat of arms, and the fashion once set, every one followed the royal example, and selected a motto for himself.
Heraldic mottoes are of three kinds--the enigmatical, or foggy, of which you have to discover the meaning, if any; the sentimental, or clap-trap, which are comprehensible even by an inhabitant of Earlswood; and the emblematical, or utterly boshy, which in nineteen cases out of twenty have no meaning at all, and finally the punning mottoes, which would bring down the house in a modern burlesque from their exceeding badness.
And here it may not be out of place to put in our protest against the extraordinary amount of inconclusiveness which generally pervades mottoes. No matter what language they may be in, and they are to be found in several, the fact remains the same, they very seldom finish. For instance let us take the motto of the Marquis of Aylesbury "Fuimus," "We have been"--Well! what if they have been--somebody of the family is surely going on with the business, whatever it was--and so "he is," and the motto, like most mottoes, doesn't in the least apply, and wants something else at the end of it. Either "we have been" rich, or poor, or hanged or blessed, or boiled, or skinned alive, or made chairman of a joint stock company; but we must have been something.
But to resume, we will just cull a few examples from the enigmatical, or foggy. Suppose we take "Che sara, sara," "What will be, will be," the motto of the house of Bedford. This is a self-evident proposition, which nobody for a moment doubts; but what does it mean? We knew it all before. The only possible explanation of it we can give is that the inventor of the motto was just going to be hung and had learnt that the Home Secretary of the period declined to interfere.
Or take "Moveo et propitior," "I make an impression on him and am appeased," borne by the Earl of Ranfurly. Now, will any one explain the signification of this Heraldic gem? Don't all speak at once, but step up one at a time. To us it seems to be the observation of a knight, who, having found a soft joint in his antagonist's armour, had inserted his dagger into the place to the discomfort of his adversary. Naturally such an action would make an impression upon the patient, and the agent would of course feel appeased if he knew there was no chance of the compliment being returned.
One more jewel from the Scottish Heraldic Crown. The Earl of Kintore proclaims on his coat of arms, "Quae amissa salva," "What has been lost is safe." Yes, not to be found again. Just for all the world like the captain's celebrated kettle, that was safe at the bottom of the sea.
And again another, "Vix ea nostra voco," "I scarcely call these things our own," which, if it means anything, must certainly be a rather unkind allusion to the probable way in which the remote ancestors of the Duke of Argyll, to whom the motto belongs, probably gathered together their possessions. Scottish chieftains of the early pattern had remarkably loose notions on the subject of meum and tuum, and the motto would seem to have been adopted either by a repentant MacCallum More, after a successful raid, or else one in doubt whether he should be able to get his plunder safely within the walls of Inverary.
We now come to the enigmatical, or clap-trap. To illustrate this style the Earl of Radnor comes to our aid with "Patria cara, carior libertas," "My country is dear, but my liberty is dearer," which sounds very beautiful, but at the same time gives us the idea of a regretful pickpocket leaving England to avoid Cold Bath Fields.
Again, we have "Murus aeneus conscientia sana." "A sound conscience is a wall of brass." This is contributed by the Earl of Scarborough. People who have not got sound consciences not unfrequently have faces of brass, and brass in connexion with the human subject is generally found in that portion of the body. Not that it has more of the clap-trap element about it than the motto of Lord Sandy's, who declares on his coat of arms that "Probum non pcenitet," "The honest man does not repent," which, like a glass of blue vitriol, is very pretty to look at, but when reduced to common sense implies that so long as we only do not pick pockets we may commit any other trifles in the way of sins it may seem good unto us, and not care anything about it; which we cannot but fancy would be uncomfortable if carried into practical working.
Just another plum from the sentimental Heraldic pudding, viz : the motto of the Marquis of Ely, "Prend moi tel que je suis," "Take me just as I am." This is from the Sister Isle, and evidently is a pretty way of putting the old chorus of
"Tow row row,
Paddy, will you now
Take me while I'm in the humour."
which, unaccountable as it may appear, is not an Heraldic motto.
It is astonishing, considering how very unsentimental were the Heralds in the discharge of their duties, what an amount of unmeaning mottoes, which will not for a moment bear reading by the light of common sense, we find in the coats of arms of the governing families of Great Britain.
We now come to another branch of the motto system. The emblematical, or utterly boshy. Of this kind, "Cassis tutissima virtus," "Virtue is the safest helmet," is a good example. The Marquis of Cholmondeley is the fortunate possessor of this Heraldic jewel. The perfect idiocy of this motto must at once strike our readers. The notion of any one in the days of battle-axes and five-foot swords putting his virtue on his head, even supposing he possessed a more than usual amount of that desirable quality, by way of a helmet, is too absurd to need one word of observation.
Another neat example of this class is that borne by the Duke of Athol "Furth fortune, and fill the fetters." This is not a conundrum, or an acrostic, or an anagram, or any other of those verbal gymnastics the answer of which is to be found in our next. It is a simple motto. If any of our readers can explain it our publisher has strict orders not to charge him anything extra for this present volume, on account of his extraordinary acumen.
When we come to "Crom a boo," "I burn," the motto of the Duke of Leinster, we think we have achieved a depth of enigma (or boshiness) which is positively unequalled. What does he burn--whom does he burn--and when does he burn? Doubtless some of the Leinster race have at various periods of the family existence burnt their fingers metaphorically and actually in various ways, but why commemorate the painful facts on the ancestral escutcheon. We have at times had our misfortunes, but as a rule we don't care to talk about them, perhaps because we remember that pity, tho' akin to love, is also a very near relation to contempt. Another thought strikes us, perhaps the originator of the motto was a victim to spontaneous combustion, and the singularity of the circumstance caused it to be commemorated as above; or, stay, can it be that not having led a particularly good life here on earth, "Crom a boo" represents the post mortem anticipations of the chieftain.
Before we say adieu to the utterly boshy one sweet and lovely specimen must not be omitted. It is "Agitatione purgatur." This Burke translates as "He or it is purified by motion," or, to put it vulgarly, by being shaken up. Sir William Russell, Bart., is the happy owner of this delectable legend. Burke owns "but what the sense can be it is difficult to determine." We quite agree with Burke. But, stay! we have found the solution! The first possessor of the title was a doctor, and, doubtless, when he was made a baronet in 1832, the Heralds, in order to keep in his mind a recollection of the profession to which he belonged, gave him the motto which, they naturally thought, was a pleasant allusion to the practical directions we so often see on dispensed medicine--"When taken to be well shaken." On no other ground can we or anybody else account for this exceedingly forcible example of the utterly boshy.
We now come to the punning mottoes, which, as we have already observed, are frequently bad enough to figure in a modern burlesque.
Very often these belong either to the emblematical or the sentimental, but, as a rule, to the boshy. Of the first, "Festina lente," "Hasten slowly," the war cry of the Onslow family, may be taken as a fitting example; and of the second, "Court hope," the legend of the Courthope race.
Amongst the punning boshy order we may class that of the Fortescue family, and it is "Forte scutum salus ducum," "A strong buckler is the safeguard of the leaders," which is perfectly true if they only get behind it; but as a motto the F.S.S.D. is beneath contempt, and would seem to imply that the original owner was in the habit of getting out of harm's way whenever there was a row on, and he had a chance of being in it.
The Vernons take, "Ver non semper viret," "The spring is not always green," and this applied to the inclemency of our English springs has a ring of truth about it not often found in Heraldic mottoes. Evidently, the inventor of this one was an acute observer of meteorology, if not first cousin to the clerk of the weather, himself.
Before we conclude this interesting subject it may not be out of place here to mention that Bishops and Peeresses have no mottoes on their coats of arms. This at first sight seems rather hard upon them, but really they get along exceedingly well without them--and we believe we may state on reliable authority, that the want of a motto has never had any deleterious effect upon their healths. This we are sure is gratifying to our readers.
And with these specimens of the motto we shall conclude.
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